Monday, April 30, 2007

Eating out. Harvest Vine.

The best thing about there always being some new, hot, of-the-moment restaurant that doesn't take reservations and therefore is impossible to get into, is that everyone is always standing in line at that new place, leaving the previous impossible-to-get-into restaurant wiiiiiiiiiiide open. Or if not wide open, at least slowed down sufficiently to make it marginally easier to snag a table. For example, Harvest Vine, which when it opened several years ago, was always packed in the tiny, three-table-one-counter former-garage space. Lines would form down the block. Now they have expanded into a more spacious room downstairs, with a wine bar and several more tables, and even better, they take reservations. When I call them at 6:45, miracle of miracles, they are willing to hold a table for the three of us if I hustle down there pronto. Let's go! I tell my mother, and we're off.

First comes a plate of jamón serrano, which looks like a giant, faded, crumpled rose against the white plate, the dark pink meat bordered with a wide ribbon of white fat. The Spanish jamón is every-so-slightly-thicker than the Italian prosciutto; it is a little softer and sweeter. Some sliced bread arrives; it is different from the paler, denser, finely-crusted bread I remember from Spain, but instead the same thick-crusted, airy-textured artisanal loaf you see all over Seattle (most likely from the bakery down the street). A salad of thinly-sliced beets is arranged like a rose window of deep red and gold stained glass, deep red against clear gold. The sweet beets are gently dressed with a tart vinegar tempered with the slickness of olive oil and the soft bite of finely minced garlic. Sautéed spinach is molded into a small cylinder that we break apart with a spoon; the faintly ferrous taste of the greens is balanced by the headiness of sherry, the sweetness of golden raisins and pine nuts. There are tiny mushrooms, sliced thin and quickly sautéed, garlicky in their brothy sauce. I reach for more bread, steal a sip of my mother's wine, which comes, like the water, in those French pressed-glass tumblers you see in tiny cafés tucked away on narrow cobblestone streets across Europe.

The fish arrives, a small piece of striped sea bass, with a strange green sauce of spinach and prawns on the side - my mother is allergic to prawns - which tastes of, well, green fields and the sea, an unusually arresting sensation. There is a small plate - or rather a small portion arranged on a large plate - of roast suckling pig, which my uncle insisted on ordering at every opportunity across Spain, the meat rich and soft, with crisp bits of crackling, salty and addictive. And then there is a long narrow plate of octopus. I think I first experienced octopus-and-potato-salad in Italy; my mother would order it at least once a day (or so it seemed) in Italy, and then several months later, in Spain and Portugal as well. I came to loathe even the thought of octopus and potatoes. But here it is again, and this time the octopus is silky and tender, dusted with a smoky paprika that leaves a trail of burnt-red powder across my lips.

I regret ordering the saffron-scented flan; it is incredibly rich and creamy and smooth, and the taste of saffron lingers all night, but I rather wish I had chosen the chocolate roulade or the lemon tart with quince paste. I will have to go back.

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